Daily Bread for 5.22.24: Jane Jacobs on Cycling

Good morning.

Wednesday in Whitewater be windy with a high of 71. Sunrise is 5:24 and sunset 8:18 for 14h 54m 38s of daytime. The moon is a waxing gibbous with 98.9 percent of its visible disk illuminated.

Whitewater’s Community Involvement and Cable TV Commission meets at 3:30 PM.

On this day in 1968, “Milwaukee Bucks” is selected as the franchise name after 14,000 fans participated in a team-naming contest. 45 people suggested the name, one of whom, R.D. Trebilcox, won a car for his efforts. 

On this day in 1849, Abraham Lincoln is issued a patent for an invention to lift boats, making him the only U.S. president to ever hold a patent. On this day in 1906, the Wright brothers are granted U.S. patent number 821,393 for their “Flying-Machine.”

I’ve posted before about Jane Jacobs, the late journalist & activist on urban planning. (Jacobs had a libertarian period in her writing but later drifted away from that outlook.) While most of her work was about urban life, many of her observations have broader applicability.

A recent link from Jeff Wood @ Urban Milwaukee (‘Jane Jacobs, The City Cyclist‘) leads to Peter L. Laurence’s Jane Jacobs, Cyclist @ Common Edge.

Laurence writes of Jacobs’s grasp of cycling’s positive role within a community:

In 1956, when car ownership and the suburban development that this enabled were just being embraced as American cultural ideals, pioneering urbanist Jane Jacobs wrote that the U.S. was becoming “an unprecedented nation of centaurs. … Our automobile population is rising about as fast as our human population and promises to continue for another generation.” She continued, “the car is not only a monstrous land-eater itself: it abets that other insatiable land-eater—endless, strung-out suburbanization.

Anticipating more than a half-century of suburban sprawl, Jacobs was an early critic of car-dependency and its impacts on the built environment and land use in general. But more than that, Jacobs’s analogy of drivers as centaurs has become all but real today. In Greek mythology, as iconically depicted on the friezes of the Parthenon, centaurs were vicious half-men, half-animals at war with mankind. As Jacobs observed, the car could turn a man half-vehicle and less than fully human in his relationship with others. “Road rage” is perhaps the most familiar of car-induced pathologies.


Although Jane generally wasn’t comfortable in front of a camera, some of the most relaxed photos show her with her Raleigh bicycle. She clearly enjoyed the freedoms and joys of the bike. No surprise, bicycling was part of her childhood in Scranton, Pennsylvania, but unlike the typical American who gave up the bike at age 16 when they acquired a driver’s license, Jane didn’t. She never learned to drive. Although her father, a physician, was an early adopter of the automobile and purchased his first one in 1910, when Jane married Robert Jacobs at her Scranton family home in 1944, the couple rode off on their bicycles for a cycling honeymoon in upstate New York. According to their eldest son, Jim, born four years later, both Jane and Bob were “avid” cyclists. One of the many things they had in common was the bike. Before meeting Jane, Bob had done a number of bike tours in the 1930s, traveling between youth hostels; he made one cycling trip to Mexico while he was an art student to see the murals of Diego Rivera and another in 1936, to Holland, Belgium, and Germany, to see the Bauhaus, while he was an architecture student, a trip on which he acquired a German NSU (NeckarSulm) bike that he brought home. 

This libertarian blogger isn’t opposed to cars (not at all). There is, however, a useful reminder for us (residents of a small town) in her observations: there is more than one way to get around (and bike travel is inexpensive). How one gets around may begin with individual choice but affects development as much as development affects individual choice. One might design a city to encourage or discourage cycling, but it’s just as possible that, over time, a choice for cycling will compel changes in design.

Tucker the hippo celebrates his 21st birthday:

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